A study conducted by a group of local and international scientists has revealed that there are serious health implications for residents living close to waste disposal sites
It was found that those residents who live within a 5km radius of a dumping site are more susceptible to chronic illnesses such as asthma, tuberculosis and depression.
Professor Rob Slotow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) explained in a statement on Wednesday the manner in which the team had conducted the study.
“The scientists accessed data over a nine-year period from the South African National Income Dynamics Study, which included 32 255 participants. The data included the health status of participants living close to waste sites, as determined by data captured in the South African National Income Dynamics Study,” said Slotow.
Lead author of the study and a member of the UKZN faculty, Dr Andrew Mitusaki Tomita said: “‘Between 2008 and 2015, we observed a substantial increase in exposure of households to waste sites. The median distance of households to waste sites decreased from 68km to only 8,5km over the study period.”
He added: “We found there was a greater likelihood of asthma, tuberculosis, diabetes and depression in individuals residing within 5km from waste sites.”
According to a report by alive2Green, a media company tasked with promoting sustainability, South Africa generates roughly 54,2 million tons of general waste per year. Of this, only 10% is properly recycled or reused, with the remaining 90% being “landfilled or dumped”.
Tomita explained the health concerns uncovered in the study.
“We identified multiple health problems in individuals living close to waste sites, which is contrary to the constitutional human rights of the population, as outlined in the Constitution of South Africa (i.e. Section 24, the right of individuals to live in an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being),” he said.
“Furthermore, the association with mental health outcomes indicates a potential negative effect on the dignity of individuals living near waste sites, which is linked to both social justice and well-being.”
Slotow, who also serves as the university’s pro-vice chancellor of African Cities of the Future, said: “The increased projected levels of waste in South Africa, especially in poorly managed waste sites, is a huge concern. It can result in serious health complications for the households residing even as far as 10km away.”
According to Professor Jonathan Burns, an honorary professor of psychiatry at the University of Exeter in the UK, many of the current challenges faced by individuals living near landfill sites are a by-product of the environmental policies implemented under the apartheid regime.
“In apartheid South Africa, due to racist environmental policies, non-white people were dispossessed of their land and forcibly moved to sites that were racially designated, often at urban outskirts including close to landfill sites,” said Burns.
“The danger posed by certain landfill gases lasts for decades, specifically for those living in close proximity to such sites who had little choice as to where they could live in pre-democratic South Africa. Further, people living close to these sites often reported odour, traffic, pollution and property devaluation, which can also have a psychological impact on these communities.”
The group of scientists have proposed a sustainable-development approach to help the country address the issue of a rise in waste sites as well as eradicate the health concerns surrounding it.
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Author: ANA Newswire